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Oscar®Oscar® winner for Best Actor in a supporting role and Best Actress in a supporting role • Nominee for Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress in a supporting role, and Best Film Editing
Movie Review

The Fighter

MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug content, some violence and sexuality.

Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson

Extremely Offensive
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1 hr. 54 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 10, 2010 (limited)
December 17, 2010 (wide—2,200+ theaters)
DVD: March 15, 2011
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Featuring: Mark Wahlberg ('Irish' Mickey Ward), Christian Bale (Dickie Eklund), Amy Adams (Charlene), Robert Wahlberg (Prison Guard), Melissa Leo (Alice), more »
Director: David O. Russell—“Three Kings,” “I Heart Huckabees”
Producer: Fighter, Mandeville Films, Relativity Media, Darren Aronofsky, more »
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

“based on a true story”

Boxing movies do an excellent job of showing the best and worst of humanity. Whether in the actual physical violence of the sport or in the internal struggle of the characters, boxing films have the ability to magnify every aspect of the human condition. They aren’t all winners, as evidenced by such clunkers as “Price of Glory” and “Against the Ropes”, however, some boxing movies transcend the normalcy and cliché of sports movies to become something more: a redemptive character study. The movie “Rocky” is the classic underdog story that has been mimicked by countless sports movies since. Scorcese’s “Raging Bull” is considered by many to be a masterpiece, and is unflinching in its portrayal of the downfall of a onetime prize fighter. Based on a true story, “The Fighter” tells the story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his troubled brother Dicky Ecklund, and their unlikely run to boxing greatness. While it’s more realistic than “Rocky” and more formulaic than “Raging Bull”, it’s also an excellent addition to the canon of boxing classics.

Micky Ward and his older half brother Dicky Ecklund are local legends in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts. They have seven sisters and an over dramatic mother whom they call Alice. In Ecklund’s prime, he went head to head with boxing legend “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Ecklund is notorious in Lowell for knocking down Leonard, even though he lost the fight. Micky is an aspiring boxer who lives in the shadow of his larger than life brother. Even though Dicky is beloved by everyone in Lowell, he is addicted to cocaine and cares more about himself than he does anyone else. After losing several fights, Micky decides he has had enough of boxing and his entire family. After taking some time off, Micky decides to come back and makes a historical run to the junior welterweight championship of the world.

“The Fighter” sounds like just another sports movie filled with clichés, slow motion, and phony melodrama, and it very well could have been. Instead, director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”, “I Heart Huckabees”) focuses on the people, instead of the sport, weaving a spellbinding story that is gripping and realistic. By the time of the championship fight, it doesn’t matter that the viewer knows what is going to happen, because the journey has been so memorable. Russell was filmed mostly on location in Lowell, using the actual homes and hangouts of Micky and Dicky. The result is a movie that feels incredibly authentic.

While Russell makes the “The Fighter” worth seeing, the acting makes it one of the best movies of the year. As Micky Ward, Mark Wahlberg delivers an impressive and layered performance. He is outdone by Melissa Leo (“Frozen River”) who is pitch-perfect as his exhausting, overbearing manager/mother Alice. She is outdone by Christian Bale, who gives the performance of the year as the eminently likeable Dicky Ecklund. Bale is unrecognizable in the role, and it is reported that he lost a considerable amount of weight for the film.

Advertisements for “The Fighter” have described it as “‘The Blind Side’ meets ‘Rocky’.” While those two movies range from good to great, this comparison could not be further from the truth. It probably comes from the movie being a true story that is also about a boxer, but those are where the similarities end. “The Fighter” is a much grittier, more realistic film. While those two films are more family-friendly (at least for teens), “The Fighter” is for adults only.

Director Russell does not pull any punches (pun intended) when it comes to the violence of boxing or the harsh reality of the people in Lowell, MA. Heavy language is present throughout the film, and there are several scenes of domestic violence. Scenes involving Dicky’s drug use are very realistic and sometimes hard to watch, but there is nothing glamorous or positive about his drug use, and the film clearly shows a direct relationship between Dicky’s addiction and his downfall. While there is no nudity, there are plenty of sexual situations involving women in various stages of undress.

For the considerable amount of objectionable content he or she must sit through, what does the viewer get in return? In one word: redemption. “The Fighter” is a powerful redemptive story of one brother who battles and defeats his addiction and another who gets a second chance at life and at boxing, and he defies the odds to become the unlikeliest of champions. Along with redemption, the film is also about family, and how they can bring you down or help build you up. Just like Ward himself, “The Fighter” is profane and imperfect, but also resilient, redemptive, and ultimately winning.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Your reviewer is right on about this movie’s worth. This is a good biopic with key actors nailing their roles completely. I must admit that I was wringing my hands at the end watching the championship fight. This film is definitely worth seeing. True stories as well done as this one are satisfying, and the end is truly one of forgiveness and reconciliation among family members.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Halyna Barannik, age 64 (USA)
Positive—Don’t know why filmmakers, of otherwise excellent content and acting, can’t make a movie without offending viewers with an “over the top” barrage of foul language. My husband and I loved this movie for it’s great acting and directing. All of the actors play their parts as if they’re the real deal, especially the mother of the family and Dicky, the addict brother. Charlene, Micky’s bar maid girlfriend, is also totally believable, except maybe a little too “drop dead” gorgeous. Perhaps I live in a too sheltered world and am not realizing that people, who are raised in a different environment than what I’ve grown up in, really do use the f___ word 5 times in every sentence. Otherwise, a captivating movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Janene B, age Over 50 (USA)
Neutral—I was a little confused when I read the review on this movie. It seemed that the review recommended it to Christians. It also stated that there was no nudity. I disagree with both. Call me snooty, but this is not a movie Christians should see. There WAS nudity, see through clothing IS nudity in my book.

Also, there were a few sexual scenes, that had I known about, I most likely would not have watched the movie. The review only said “women in scenes of undress.” This leads the reader to think that it could just possibly be a woman changing as the camera pans away. That’s what I thought, at least, since there was supposedly no nudity. It seemed to me that the “extremely offensive” rating in the review was due to the violence and drug use. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Matt Gomez, age 28 (USA)
Neutral—While this film had redemptive qualities, I cannot recommend it to Christians. The portrayal of drug addicts was very believable and seemed like something you would see in a documentary. The fighting scenes were graphic, but realistic. There was quite a bit of foul language that could not be ignored. There were several scenes that may cause lust, and the original reviewer was misleading in saying that there was no nudity. When I can see completely though a characters undergarments and nothing is left to the imagination, I call that nudity. The movie ended on a positive note, but there is too much objectionable content to encourage Christians to view this.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Jessica, age 27 (USA)
Negative—With all due respect to the Ward family, I must agree with Roger Eberts review. I know Lowell, as I trained there as a teenager in a sweaty dump with other serious fighters, middle of January, no treadmills, nowhere to run due to snow and inner city, this was 1962, you sparred, skip rope, hit the speedbag, hit the heavy bag, shadow boxed. And I still do.

This movie does not showcase boxing. It broadcasts the domination of a young man by his mother and 7 blowhard sisters. It does not champion his Ring magazine “Fight of the Year” with Augustus Burton, 10 rounds of pure bull boxing, it does not showcase his three fights with Arturo Gatti which set him up with fame and fortune as he has now. In fact, he will be here in Nashua NH to sign autographs today at the movie theater. Nashua is right over the border from Lowell about 13 miles.

It is mostly soap opera, screaming women and cursing. The boxing is minimal, don’t waste your money. It is so far from Rocky it is a joke. Nice try, but it is no boxing movie, and just not heroic enough. Christianity does not even exist in this mess.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—J. Crook, age 64 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I enjoyed this movie. I thought “The Fighter” looked like an ALRIGHT movie, but I left the theater seeing a WONDERFUL movie. The violence is realistically gory, the language is nearly constant, and drug material is eminent, but the overall message of the movie is positive. Both Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg did a great job for this movie. I always thought Bale was a fine actor, but after seeing “The Happening,” Wahlberg lost my admiration since “The Happening” was such a fail. After this movie, I got some of that admiration back! Oscar wins, I believe, are in store! Wonderful movie! A must see!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Lydia P, age 17 (USA)